New Bedford, Massachusetts; May 21, 2021: A lawsuit was filed today challenging a state law that allows local governments and private investment firms to take the equity that people have in their homes. The Town of Dartmouth and investment firm Tallage Davis, LLC took the entire value of Mary Ann and Tina Dupere’s home — more than $330,000 — over a tax debt of just $2,535.
Mary Ann has lived in her home since the 1980s, and her daughter, Tina, has lived with her for the past 25 years. But when Mary Ann suffered a debilitating stroke in 2010, medical bills began to pile up. In 2016, the Duperes were unable to pay $2,535 in property taxes. Dartmouth placed a tax lien on their home, imposing 16% interest on their debt and threatening foreclosure. The town then sold its tax lien to Tallage in 2018. About a year later, interest, fees, and subsequent taxes had ballooned their debt to roughly $22,000. Tallage then foreclosed on the Duperes’ home, transferring the home’s title and entire value of the property to itself. The investment firm received a windfall of more than $300,000; Tina and her mother were left with nothing.
“Unfortunately, Massachusetts law allows and encourages home equity theft, which violates the rights of homeowners,” said Joshua Polk, an attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “Residents have an obligation to pay their taxes, and the government can take property to cover those taxes and associated debts. But the government and its agents aren’t entitled to any more than they are owed. Anything above that amount is stealing.”
Earlier this year, an Easton, Massachusetts, family nearly lost their home. After Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against Tallage and the Town of Easton, that family was able to redeem title to their home.
In February, Representatives Jeffrey Roy (D – Franklin) and Tommy Vitolo (D – Brookline) introduced bill H.3053, which would stop municipalities from violating the constitutional rights of property owners and end home equity theft in the state.
Massachusetts is one of a shrinking number of states that allow local governments and private investors to reap windfalls when they take property. Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court found a similar law unconstitutional, ruling that people have a right to any surplus proceeds from a tax foreclosure sale after back taxes are paid. Pacific Legal Foundation is committed to ending the practice of home equity theft across the country.
Pacific Legal Foundation represents Tina and Mary Ann Dupere free of charge with assistance from attorney Michael Pill of Green Miles Lipton, LLP. The case, Dupere v. Town of Dartmouth and Tallage Davis, LLC, was filed in Bristol County Superior Court.
Pacific Legal Foundation is a national nonprofit legal organization that defends Americans threatened by government overreach and abuse. Since our founding in 1973, we challenge the government when it violates individual liberty and constitutional rights. With active cases in 34 states plus Washington, D.C., PLF represents clients in state and federal courts, with 14 victories out of 16 cases litigated at the U.S. Supreme Court.
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